Austin Bay

As the Russo-Georgian War's August gunfire slips into a murky September ceasefire, the Pentagon reports that the Russians "are still not living up to the terms of the ceasefire agreement."

So, what does Russia want?

The question intentionally echoes, "So what did Stalin want?" -- which historian John Lewis Gaddis asked then answered in his award-winning book "The Cold War: A New History." Gaddis argued Joseph Stalin wanted "security for himself, his regime, his country and his ideology, in precisely that order."

These goals would also resonate in an "Old History" of Russia -- call it Tsar Wars, with Ivan the Terrible as the featured personality.

Personalizing Russia 2008 as Vladimir Putin strikes me as a stretch. Putin runs an oligarchy, not a totalitarian dictatorship, but Putin is clearly at the nucleus of the oligarchy, with ex-KGB pals, friendly billionaires and useful mafiya in close orbits. But dub the pals and billionaires "new royalty," and Putin might be an emerging "pop Tsar" -- a savvy 21st century autocrat leveraging Russian nationalist demands. Orchestrating a domestically popular military ventures fits this frame.

Gaddis titled the first chapter of his new history "The Return of Fear." Ivan the Terrible and Stalin subscribed to Machiavelli's advice in "The Prince": It "is much safer to be feared than loved." The Russo-Georgia War does not revive the Cold War. However, reviving fear is most certainly a Russian aim.

NATO and the European Union didn't quail when Russia insisted that Kosovo's unilateral independence was a "redline issue" for the Kremlin. Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili certainly didn't fear Russian power when troubles began in early August -- violent troubles in South Ossetia that may have been a Russian trap.

The Kremlin says toppling Saakashvili is a goal. For now, Saakashvili remains in power, and he has secured a global reputation for pugnacity. Russian troops, however, remain in Georgian ports -- thus pugnacity remains in peril.

Over time, fear can erode. In August 1968, 40 years ago, Russian tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia to crush Alexander Dubcek's "Prague Spring" democratic movement. The Soviet empire chained Eastern Europeans for another 21 years -- a generation. A generation of frightened Georgians may serve Russia's interests.


Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
 
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